A Streetcar Named Desire | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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A Streetcar Named Desire | Symbols



Williams contrasts dim light and harsh light to underscore the theme of truth versus illusion. Dim light symbolizes Blanche's world of illusion because it helps to disguise the truth about herself. For example, she asks Mitch to place a paper lantern over a bulb to dim the glaring light in order to hide her true age from him. Later Mitch mentions to Blanche that she refuses to be seen in the harsh glare of the sun. He finds this suspicious because "I've never had a real good look at you." Blanche fears if Mitch knows her real age, or the facts of her life in Laurel, he won't marry her.

In contrast harsh light represents the naked truth, especially as seen by Stanley and Mitch. When Mitch wants to find out Blanche's age, he removes the paper lantern, exposing Blanche to the harsh light of a naked light bulb. Blanche finds this action insulting, but Mitch sees it as truthful. Blanche believes a woman should be allowed some deceit to protect her vanity. A gentleman should understand this need. However, for Mitch and Stanley, the main goal is to expose the facts without any shadings. To show this Williams has the Kowalski apartment lit with glaring light. In fact, soon after Blanche arrives at the apartment, she tells Stella to turn off the overhead light because "I won't be looked at in this merciless glare." Blanche also has many unpleasant truths about herself she would prefer not to see.


The title of the play establishes a connection between desire and death or loss or destruction. The streetcar named Desire brings Blanche to another streetcar called Cemeteries and then to Elysian Fields, a Greek reference to the afterlife. Blanche blames the sexual escapades of her ancestors for the loss of Belle Reve. Blanche's own sexual escapades lead to the loss of a job and her reputation. Blanche's husband kills himself after his affair with another man is discovered. Finally Blanche loses her sanity after she is raped by Stanley.

The flowers in the play become the perfect symbol for this connection between desire and death. In Scene 3, Stella compliments Blanche's desirability, "You are fresh as a daisy." Yet Blanche references death in her reply, "One that's been picked a few days." In Scene 5 Mitch brings Blanche roses as an expression of his desire for her just as Blanche's inappropriate flirtation with the young man collecting newspaper payments ends. By Scene 9, as Mitch and Blanche have a falling out, a Mexican woman appears selling flowers for the dead.

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